pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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The Power

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 21: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Shortly after Mary Magdalene announces that she has seen the risen Lord, Jesus appears to the disciples. They are gathered together, hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. For three years they have lived together almost 24-7. In the blur of less than 24 hours their leader and Lord has been arrested and crucified. As the disciples ponder all this and the news of Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears and offers them his peace. Jesus offers his hands and side as proof – “the disciples are overjoyed”. What a beautiful end to a tragic story!

Next, Jesus does not offer to cash in their healthy 401-3-k. He does not wish them well and send them off into the sunset with a very generous severance package. No, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. In reality he is saying, ‘Men who were hiding in fear, be bold and go out to those Jews you fear and proclaim the good news’. Jesus wants them to get back out there, to continue to share the message of God’s love and grace. He has the same expectation of you and me, brother or sister of Christ. Jesus calls us to be witnesses to the good news, fellow beloved children of God almighty.

“With that” commission given Jesus empowers them for the task ahead. Jesus breathes new life into the disciples as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. The same indwelling holy presence that guided Jesus is now shared with these disciples. The Spirit that led Jesus for three years is now breathed into the disciples so that they can continue the work of building the kingdom of God. When we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when we ask him to the the Lord of our life, we are empowered by the same Holy Spirit. Through the sharing of our faith and the witness of our lives we are sent out into the world to build the kingdom of God. Inviting and guiding others into relationship with Jesus Christ we offer the opportunity to new life – a life without enslavement to sin and death.

My friends, we too have the power over sin that the disciples exercised. Jesus’ unconditional love and undeserved grace is available to one and all. Each time the Holy Spirit nudges or leads us to share our faith with a lost or broken soul, we hold the power of forgiveness in our hands. How will we exercise this power, this access to love and grace? As we are given opportunity, may we live as resurrection people, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all we meet. May this be the power that we choose.

Prayer: Lord of life, may your peace reign in my heart and mind. May that peace propel me out into the world to share your love and grace, your good news, with all I meet. May it ever be so. Amen.


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May They Know

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12 (and 13-14)

Verse 9: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”.

Continuing from yesterday we see that Elisha and Elijah have at last arrived at the Jordan River. This is a place of transitions – it is where Joshua took on leadership from Moses as the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. Joshua struck the water with Moses’ staff and they crossed over on dry land. Elijah takes his cloak and strikes the water – Elijah and Elisha cross over on dry land.

Elijah knows the time has come. He asks Elisha what he can do for him before he is taken from him. Elisha responds, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”. He wants to continue the work of his master and to do so to an even greater degree. Elisha wants to be twice as connected to God. Elijah understands the request and the enormity of the request. He tells Elisha that it will be so if he sees him being taken away. After the chariots of fire whisk Elijah away to heaven, Elisha tears his clothes in grief.

In verses thirteen and fourteen we see that the cloak has been left behind for Elisha, just as the staff was given to Joshua. Asking, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah”? he strikes the Jordan with the cloak and crosses over on dry land. Clearly God is now with Elisha. The mantle has been passed. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Elisha.

At the close of Jesus’ ministry he too passed the mantle on to his disciples. To each of his disciples Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus passed on the mantle – the task of being God’s love lived out in the world. Joshua would go on to lead as Moses had led, Elisha would go on to prophecy as Elijah had. In the same way, as disciples we are to go on as Jesus taught us to. Led by the Spirit we are to continue in his footsteps, offering sacrificial service, radical welcome, unconditional love, undeserved grace… Just as Jesus stood out from the religious and political leaders of his day, we too are to stand out.

The fifty prophets stood at a distance watching. As Elisha struck the Jordan and crossed over on dry land, they knew a prophet was in the land. As folks stand and watch us, may they know that Jesus is in the land. May they know.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out your Spirit. May it be evident in me. As others see me, watch me, hear me, spend time with me, may they sense the presence of Jesus within me. May this presence lead to questions, to conversation, and to the sharing of faith. Amen.


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Undeserved? YES!

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 1: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard”.

Today’s parable in Matthew is the second in a row where Jesus teaches about God’s upside-down kingdom. If we were the workers who were hired early in the morning, we too would be upset when we received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Like these workers, it would not matter a whole lot to us that we agreed to our pay before we even started working or that it was a fair days wage. Similarly, those who worked nine hours would be pretty upset, those who worked six hours would be kind of upset… On the surface level we struggle with this story just as we can sometimes struggle with the story of the thief on the cross found in Luke 23.

Jesus’ actual behavior also reflects this upside-down feel. He did not spend most of his time in the temple. He did not recruit his followers from elite rabbi schools. Jesus himself was not even trained as a professional rabbi. The religious leaders were much like the full day workers in our parable. They cringed and recoiled when Jesus forgave the sins of adulterous women and greedy tax collectors and the lame and deaf and mute – those obviously carrying the lifelong burden of some unrepentant sin. Like the thief on the cross and the workers who only came at the last hour, people like these do not deserve such easy grace, such free flowing forgiveness.

Do we sometimes cringe and recoil at who God continues to invite into the kingdom of God? Do we ever walk into church on a Sunday morning and wonder, Who let them in? If so, we need to check the inner religious snob hiding inside of us too.

I do not know about you, but I am glad that God is the God of late in life professions of faith and death bed confessions of Jesus as Lord. That expression of generous and unconditional grace is the same exact grace that forgives my struggle with pride for the zillionth time. Yes, yes, we rejoice at that grace. Whether one comes at the first hour or at the last hour, may all hear about and come to experience that same extravagant and wonderful grace.

Prayer: Loving and generous God, it is so wonderful to live within your abundant and generous grace. Even though I may not deserve to experience it over and over, you continue to pour it over me time and time again. Thank you for your love of a sinner like me. Amen.


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Love and Peace

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11b: “The God of love and peace will be with you”.

As we return to Paul’s closing words in his second letter to the Corinthians, we focus in on God’s love and peace. Paul promises the church in Corinth that the “God of love and peace will be with you”. This promise remains true for us today.

Christianity does not have the corner on love and peace. People without faith have love in their lives. They fall in love and they feel loved. People without faith can also experience peace in their lives, although it seems a bit more elusive than love for the general population. I think that is because the source is different. Without God, you are the source of your peace. In that world, one only has peace when things are going well. In life though, one cannot control everything, so peace can become more elusive. The source of peace for the Christian is the God of love. In faith, peace and live are connected together. God is primarily love and once we have decided to declare Jesus as Lord, we become loved in a new and complete and unconditional love. It is a no-matter-what love. No matter what we do, God will not love us any more. No matter what we do not do, God will not love us any less. God’s love is an undeserved and unmerited yet total and complete and unchanging love.

As ones created in God’s image, as ones who know his love, we find a peace and contentment that eludes many in this life. Our peace is from God’s love. We know the one who loves us created all the world and is in control of all things. Because he loves us, God’s Spirit walks with us through all of life. God’s unending love brings us a peace that passes all human understanding. It is a peace that the world does not know.

Many of us are praying for peace in our world and in our nation. As we do so, may we keep in mind that it is all built upon knowing God’s love. This day may we seek to make God and God’s love known. Only then will peace between all peoples begin to take lasting roots. May the God of love rain down unconditional love. Peace will follow.

Prayer: Dear God, in all things and in all ways, you are love. God, this day may I be a conduit of your love. In that love may others find connection to you. Through a relationship with you, may our world find peace. Amen.


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Upside Down

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-11

Verse 7b: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”.

We begin Holy Week today with a Psalm that is not part of the revised common lectionary but is often read this week. As I began reading the first two verses, a song leapt into my mind. These words form the opening verse of “Your Love, O Lord” from Mercy Me. It is so appropriate as mercy forms one of the central thematic movements of Holy Week.

Mercy is centered first in love and compassion. Love leads us to have compassion for those close to us. Compassion becomes mercy when it is undeserved or cannot be earned. To extend mercy or to offer mercy, one must have compassion for the other. This week will seem to draw to a close with an act of great mercy as Jesus goes to the cross, taking on the sins of the world – my sins and your sins. There is a vastness in the love that Jesus offers in this act. Yet we know that victory over sin is not the only victory this week!

As I read the passage for today, the second half of verse seven clung to me. The ideas and emotions contained therein are near and dear to my heart. The verse reads, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. This verse shouts to me the vastness and wideness and inclusiveness of God’s love. Both the high and the low. Both men and women. Both the elderly and the children. Both the Black and the white and the Native and the Asian and the Mexican and the immigrant and the refugee. Every single person falls within the scope of God’s love. Every single one. And it does not stop with humanity either. The promise is to one day restore all of creation – a new heaven and a new earth. God’s love seeks to draw all of creation in.

The psalmist also writes of feasting on the “abundance of your house” and of drinking from God’s “river of delights”. This is God’s perfect plan – for a future day. As I look at the world it is plain to see that not all feast and not all drink. That is not the way of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ, it is here that we find one of our primary missions (see Matthew 26: 31-46). We are called to build God’s upside-down kingdom here on earth. That is the one where there are no rich or poor, no fed and hungry, no slave or free… In doing so we help the least and the broken and the lost to begin to experience verse nine: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call to action. Lead me to be a builder today. May your mercy and love flow in and through me. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Saved to Save

Reading: 1st Timothy 1: 12-17

Verse 14: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”.

In our passage today, Paul gives thanks that Jesus Christ intervened in his life. One can feel the emotion of Paul as one reads verses twelve through fourteen. He knows that he would still be a blasphemer, a persecutor, a violent man – a sinner – without Jesus’ intervention. Can you recall when Jesus Christ first intervened in your life?

In verse twelve Paul thanks Jesus for choosing him and for considering Paul worthy of service. He is grateful for the strength that Christ gives him so that he can be faithful in his service to God’s kingdom. Paul recognizes that he was chosen. Christ identified Paul as one to serve and called him to discipleship. As unlikely a choice as Paul was to be a leader in the early church and to be the main missionary to the Gentiles, God still used him. Paul, who had been acting in “ignorance and unbelief”, experienced the mercy of God.

In verse fourteen we read, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”. Paul recognizes the fact that the unmerited, undeserved free gift of God was poured out abundantly upon him – like a heavy rain during a powerful summer thunderstorm. As God’s grace cleansed Paul of all the sin and hatred and violence, he was refilled with the faith and love of Jesus Christ. It was a complete transformation.

Can you remember what you and your life were like before you knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Can you relate to these words of Paul: “Christ Jesus came to save sinners”? We all can answer these questions. The answers are part of our faith story. Paul knows that Jesus changed him so that he could be used “as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life”. Paul knows that he was saved so that he could help Jesus save others. That too is part of our story. We too are saved to save. Today and every day may we make Jesus known. May it be so!

Prayer: God of all, you poured out your mercy upon me too. In your infinite love you continue to pour out your mercy and grace. I would be so lost in my sin without you. Continue to do a good work in me; help me to bear witness to your love today. In and through me may others know Jesus Christ. Amen.


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A Beautiful View

Reading: Psalm 67

Verse 5: “May the people praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you”.

The Psalm opens with a request that the people experience God’s grace and blessing, that God’s face shines upon them. All are good things and things we hope for too. A little grace, a little blessing, and a little shining are always good, right? Yes, but we cannot miss the second half of the opening verse. It is the ‘why’ of why the psalmist desires these things for the people. It is so God’s ways may be made known and so that all nations may know the salvation of the Lord.

When we truly know and experience God’s grace in our lives, it becomes something we want to share with others. It is a gift so beautiful that we should want to share it with others and should seek to live out in our lives. Grace is an unmerited and undeserved outpouring of love and forgiveness that naturally leads us to want others to experience grace. We also experience God’s blessings in our lives. Blessings come in many forms. They are not always all about material things. For example, we can be blessed by our relationships with God and others, finding joy and love and peace and hope and community… Blessings are like grace – a gift that God gives to us so that we can share with others. We share grace and blessing so that others may know both God’s ways and the salvation that comes through faith in Christ alone.

The psalmist offers this prayer today not just for Israel but for all nations. The psalmist has a big view of God. It is a beautiful view. In verse 5 we read these words: “May the people praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you”. In order to praise, one must first know. This day may we each make God known to those we encounter, helping the lost one step closer to being found. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to love well today. Give me eyes to see all as your child, dearly beloved by you and by me. Amen.


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A Willing Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verses 1& 2: “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The common understanding of the background of Psalm 51 is that it springs forth from David’s sins around the Bathsheba-Uriah episode. His outpouring of repentance comes after Nathan confronted him. The depth of his sin has settled in on him and David comes to God with a broken and sorrowful heart. This pours from the Psalm.

David begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”. Forgiveness begins with God extending us mercy. Mercy is that undeserved gift that we cannot earn yet never run out of. It is the love that makes it possible for our sins to be removed. Mercy says that God understands our plight as the sinful creatures that we are. The depth of God’s love says this over and over again.

In just the opening lines, David continues with, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. It is precisely what God does with our sin. He washes it away and remembers it no more. Unlike us, when we repent, God forgets our sins. This is a second sign of the depth of God’s love – we are made totally clean again. God restores us to righteousness and holiness. I imagine that God smiles as He looks upon us in this state. It is a knowing smile that I picture on God’s face. He knows us well.

As this section of our Psalm closes, we read these familiar lines: “Create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit within me”. These familiar words ring out over and over in my church and in churches all over the world on Ash Wednesday as we enter into a season of preparation for Easter. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that sin has a cost. Yes, mercy and forgiveness are free to you and me, but they did come with a price.

Verse 12 asks God to “grant me a willing spirit”. It is David’s request to walk more closely with God. Like David, may we too be honest with God, admitting our failures, welcoming His cleansing, and continuing our journey of faith with a resolute mind and heart. May we live today and every day with a willing spirit and a repentant heart. May it be so, all to the glory of God. Amen.


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The Faith OF Christ

Reading: Galatians 2: 15-21

In the original Greek of today’s text, there was no word between ‘faith’ and ‘Jesus Christ’.  The structure of the original sentence would have implied a certain connection.  Through the study of this and with an understanding of the whole message of the Bible, the word inserted is almost always ‘of’.  As is: the faith of Christ.  In using ‘of’ it places the redemptive work of saving grace fully on Jesus, not on us.

While it is true that we often live as if faith ‘in’ Jesus is what matters, wrongly thinking that somehow our own actions will save us.  In using ‘faith in Christ’ we are trying to take a role in something that is solely the work of God.  It was Jesus’ faith alone that led Him to the cross and it is God alone who offers us grace – that unmerited, undeserved free gift of love.  Our role is simply to live into the faith of Jesus Christ in God that allowed Him to go to the cross.

Once we can accept this and begin to understand the faith of Christ in His saving act, then this initiates a response on our part.  Once we wrap our heads around this great gift, then we begin to live our life as a grateful response to this gift and to His love.  As one of my devotionals put it this morning, we begin to “embrace a cross-shaped faithfulness of our own”.  In embracing this we understand and begin to live out God’s desire and plan to make all things new and to restore all of creation, bringing healing to all brokenness.

We understand that we ourselves are made new as children of God.  We respond by inviting and bringing others into this right relationship with God.  We respond by seeking to bring healing and restoration to the brokenness of our world.  The faith OF Jesus Christ dwells in us and shines out into the world through our lives.  This is the gift a faithful follower of Jesus Christ offers back to a world in need.